Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression


Stress, anxiety and depression

Articles about the Stress - Anxiety - Depression cycle, and how to avoid and cope with these problems.

Young woman out of controlReinhold Niebuhr said, in 1943:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".

This piece of wisdom became the prayer for Alcoholics Anonymous and their 12 Step Program for overcoming addictions and it says a lot, not only about acceptance but about control. The words acceptance and control could easily be exchanged. What can't I control, what can I and how do I know the difference?

We can try to control other people and our environment to make it more comfortable.

This is not always easy but it's always worth a try. For example, when you have a problem with someone's behaviour, you can be assertive and ask for change.

Thinking womanIn recent years, mindfulness has become a popular tool for psychologists. It's relaxing and that in itself makes it useful. That's not the actual purpose of it though – I teach that the purpose of Mindfulness is to find the mind (the 'observational self') and help to distinguish it from the brain (which is the organ that thinks).

'But aren't they just the same thing?' is a common response.

The Human is the only creature that can observe itself – be self-aware, at least in a philosophical sense. Great apes have shown in mirror tests, that they understand it is them in the mirror, but having a sense of 'self' - consciousness, an ability to project into the future and have imagination - seems to exist only is us. We have evolved the capacity to be able to observe ourselves; our thoughts and feelings, and we have a sense of self and self-perception that sets us apart. This is my view (and it's a popular view). That is, that the mind is separate from the brain. There is another view that what we think of as mind and higher thinking is just a reactive function of the brain and an illusion; that we have no free will. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, that doesn't happen to be mine.

xmas reindeerHappy 'Mindful Christmas'!

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, everything seems to be busier and noisier at this time of the year and stress levels can rise as a result.

So I'd like to wish you a mindful Christmas and New Year and this article – 'A Mindful Christmas' - has some hints on how to make your way into 2014 in a less stressful way.

If you do celebrate Christmas - I'd like to wish you a very merry one and a Happy New Year in 2014.

A Mindful Christmas

In my last e-letter, I talked about what mindfulness is and you can visit (re-visit) that here.

My definition is: 'Mindfulness is engaging our "observational self" for the purposes of meditation, self-development and to help with managing uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and sensations”.

The 'observational self' is our ability to be self-aware and watch our thoughts and feelings from a mindful perspective, rather than being so caught up in, and reactive to them.

Flying into rough weatherMy client was having flying instructions a long time ago when instruments were pretty rudimentary, and the instructor was giving advice for what to do when you're in, or about to go into, a storm.

He told my client "If you get caught in a storm – never turn!"

My client asked why (since running away seemed like a very obvious thing to do).

"Because", said the instructor, "They never build storms in straight lines".

My client said a "blind went up" and he never forgot the advice. Of course, storms are not endless, as long as you stay the course, the storm will pass and you'll come out the other end – if you don't stay the course, you may end up flying in circles around and around in the storm, or get disorientated or lost.

When you're in an emotional storm, like the inexperienced pilot, you might panic, run around in circles, go off course and make hasty decisions. If you stay the course, keep going and wait for the storm to pass (which it always does), you'll be in much better shape.